Theodore Roosevelt V sees fitting placement of presidential library in Badlands

Theodore 'Ted' Roosevelt is the great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt who has deep ties to the North Dakota Badlands and the state's western lore. Roosevelt, who is no stranger to the state, was in Bismarck to talk about the proposed presidential library in Medora. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune
Theodore 'Ted' Roosevelt is the great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt who has deep ties to the North Dakota Badlands and the state's western lore. Roosevelt, who is no stranger to the state, was in Bismarck to talk about the proposed presidential library in Medora. Tom Stromme / Bismarck TribuneTom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

MEDORA, N.D. — President Theodore Roosevelt's great-great-grandson sees Medora as a meaningful location for his famous forefather's presidential library.

"His time here was very impactful for him," said Theodore "Ted" Roosevelt V. "It’s something for him where he had a deep love of the state, a deep love of the place when he left."

President Roosevelt ranched and hunted in Dakota Territory's Little Missouri Badlands near Medora in the 1880s, where he also recovered from the deaths of his wife and mother in 1884.

Now, Gov. Doug Burgum is proposing funding for the long-pondered project of a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum: using $50 million in Legacy Fund interest earnings with $100 million in private donations for the project in Medora.

Ted Roosevelt was in Bismarck on Tuesday, Jan. 22, to express support of Burgum's proposal to North Dakota lawmakers at a legislative reception at the governor's residence. Joining him were Rob Walton, former chair of Walmart, and his wife, Melani, a 1998 alumna of Dickinson State University.

Burgum advocated early and thoroughly in lawmakers' 2019 session — outlining his library plan in two speeches to the Legislature and in offering his first-ever testimony to a legislative committee.

Legislators quizzed the governor over private support of the project, how and if the $100 million could come together. Ted Roosevelt said he's "very confident that there will be financial support from donors if the state Legislature shows up."

"I understand the hesitation that legislators have, especially with some of the other needs in the state, to allocate that capital to something like a library or a museum," he said. "At the same time, what is abundantly clear to me and some others is there is a huge amount of support outside of the state for this project."

The library sited at Medora's gate to Theodore Roosevelt National Park would complement the Roosevelt story, he added: "There's a real sense that this is a unique place to build this library."

Legislators have offered mixed thoughts on the governor's proposal for the library. Bowman Republican Rep. Keith Kempenich represents District 39, which includes Medora and all three units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

He said none of his constituents is against the concept of the library, "but they're not really in favor of putting it together right now."

Committing Legacy Fund earnings would likely come with some caveats, Kempenich added, such as when the state would commit its dollars.

"The sad part is, is that money won't be available for two and a half years anyway," he said. "We're not going to commit anything that isn't there."

The $150 million governor's proposal would fund a $100 million facility and $50 million endowment.

"I think it's going to have to get fleshed out a lot better, how things are going to work," Kempenich said.

Mandan Republican Rep. Todd Porter said he supports the plan as it plays into tourism, North Dakota's third largest industry — 19 percent of the gross state product in 2016, according to the state Tourism Division.

But the library also would be a unique tribute to a celebrated president, Porter added — one with substantial ties to North Dakota.

But could the library — discussed since at least 2013 — be now or never?

"I think it is, because the large philanthropy donations are out there for this, and people are interested from a donor community that isn't normally available to the state of North Dakota," Porter said. "So I do think that if we don't take a step that they'll move on and do something else with their money."